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Is There a Difference Between Child Slavery and Child Trafficking?

Updated on November 12, 2014

The Difference Between Child Slavery and Child Trafficking?

Recently, I looked over some of the website information for my non-profit, the Sama Tata Foundation. While looking over it, I thought about the article I recently wrote about child trafficking. What I noticed was that I often use child slavery and child trafficking in most of the same contexts, however I'm not the only one. Many of the sources I have looked at over the years, including those for the article I wrote for Hubpages, other use child slavery and child trafficking within the same context. This made me wonder: are child slavery and child trafficking really synonyms, or is there a difference between these two terms that should be discussed? The purpose of this article will be to discuss whether or not these terms can be separated, why they are used in the same context, and whether or not they are synonyms. I am doing this with the hopes that the international community, as well as my organization, can understand this situation a little more so that we can help children who find themselves as victims of either slavery, or trafficking.

What Is Child Slavery?

The definition currently accepted by the United Nations of child slavery, yet paraphrased in my own words, is the use of individuals under the age of 18 that are forced to work with absolutely no pay. Children who end up as slaves are normally trafficked, kidnapped and/or forced to work under intolerable, inhumane conditions to satisfy the economic needs of a group of adults. The adults, who normally are a part of a criminally-violent group, have shanghaied the children with the specific purposes of meeting the "supply" and "demand" of the industry they are representing. Child slavery is considered to be an illicit activity by most UN-member states and also by the United Nations as a whole.

When most people think of child slavery, they think of children working in the fields with no pay. However, child slaves can be found working in factories, in the illicit sex trade, as servants, as soldiers, in mines, as beggars, and on farms just to name a few. Basically, any situation you can think of where a child could work, but under an illicit employer who is making him or her work against their will without pay and living under horrid conditions, can exist in the world of child slavery.

What is Child Trafficking?

So, what is child trafficking, and why is it often mentioned in the same sentence and/or context as child slavery? The reason why is simple: child trafficking is often the vehicle in which these criminal groups transport children from one country, region, or city to another for work.

Child trafficking is currently defined by various United Nations entities as the act of transporting individuals under the age of 18 and/or the legal age of adulthood accepted by the state in question from one country, region or city to another for a particular purpose. Even though children are often trafficked for various forms of 21st century slavery practices, they are often transported also to seek asylum, and/or as irregular migrants.

Why Are The Terms Child Slavery and Child Trafficking Often Confused?

I have explained what child slavery is normally defined as in contrast to child trafficking. I have also mentioned why both terms are used in the same context. However, why are these terms often confused, when they mean two totally different things? The reason why is actually quite simple: child trafficking is often the vehicle, or method, which is used to transport children who will become child slaves. However, the reason why the terms get confused is less simple. I have my own personal theories as to why this happens. First, the terms are confused because children who are often trafficked end up as child slaves. Second, those who confuse the terms are ignorant of the complexity, but also how disparate child trafficking and child slavery are. Therefore, these individuals, whether state or non-state actors, tend to use child trafficking as a synonym to child slavery with the link these two terms share. This leads to generalizations, but also misconceptions of what child slavery and child trafficking really are. Third, is the simple fact that those at the grassroots level, policy level and academic level are not educated on the subject of child slavery and child trafficking on the same sources. This creates a knowledge gap, as well as a disagreement and confusion over what child trafficking and child slavery really are. This has the potential of making it very difficult for the international community to do anything to help children who become victims of either of these issues. Fourth, there are not many experts on the subject of child trafficking and child slavery. This also explains why the terms get misconstrued is because there aren't that many writing about this subject to clearly explain what the difference is between child trafficking and child slavery. Fifth, even thought I identified the terms I used for child slavery and child trafficking as those used by the United Nations and its entities, there's a reason why I included the word "paraphrase" when I defined both terms. This is because there really isn't a clear, drawn-out definition by the United Nations on this subject. I will iterate, however, that the United Nations does have clear definitions on what a child is, a slave is, a refugee is, what human trafficking is, and what an irregular migrant is. The United Nations and its entities also has documentation to train individuals, and also explain the issues related to child slavery and child trafficking. Nonetheless, I haven't seen any legislation that explicitly defines the difference between child slavery and child trafficking written by the United Nations in a very clear, legal manner. I guess the United Nations doesn't thin this is necessary because child slavery and child trafficking fall under the larger umbrellas of slavery and human trafficking, and children's rights. However, in order for the international community to better assist victims of child slavery and child trafficking, I personally recommend that the United Nations, its member-states, and social science scholars to make a valid attempt to make a clear, official, legal definitions for the terms of child slavery and child trafficking. The reason why I argue this is to help make sure that individuals at the grassroots level, academic level, and policy level agree on what child slavery and child trafficking really are. This, in return, can help NGOs and policy makers effectively help victims of child slavery and child trafficking, but also put the perpetrators who take advantage of these children to justice. Furthermore, an official definition of these two words could help bring further awareness of the needs of children who end up as slaves and/or trafficked, but also about the individuals who use these children so that the international community can do a better job at protecting children from perpetrators, but also in putting these perpetrators to justice and make sure that victims are properly assisted.

I will admit, that current efforts by UNICEF, the ILO, law enforcement around the world and non-profits associated with assisting victims of child slavery and child trafficking is starting to make a difference for victims of these issues, but it still has a long way to go. One way to help can be to insure that the world can agree on separate, clear definitions for child slavery and child trafficking This can help us make sure that the grassroots level understand what child slavery and child trafficking are, that the academic level and policy level are in an agreement of what these issues really are so that we can better assist victims and put their perpetrators to justice!

We Want to Hear From You!

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to leave comments, however please follow these guidelines:

  • Do not use foul language
  • You can disagree with me, however do not write anything that's emotionally negative towards me or the subject. Therefore, when you write a disagreement, do so in a clear, objective, non-emotional manner, as you would if you were in a classroom or at work.
  • Keep comments on topic please, because I would like the comments section to be an extension of the actual article.
  • Questions are welcome, just make sure they are on topic, and as asked in a clear, objective, non-emotional manner, as you would in a classroom or at work.

Thank you so much and hope to hear from you soon!


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